I’m all about saving pennies and Euros when I travel, and let me tell you, a trip to Athens, Greece, is no different. I mean, who doesn’t love the idea of exploring Athens for the same cost as a Greek salad (crumbled feta and Kalamata olives included)? But is finding free things to do in Athens even possible, you ask? The answer is a resounding, tzatziki-covered ‘yes.’
In the heart of Attica lies Athens, a city bursting with ancient wonders, vibrant street life, and – would you believe it – an abundance of free things to do! And, when I say free, I mean ‘leave your wallet at home and spend your time, not your euros’ kind of free.
Athens is steeped in more history than your grandma’s attic, but don’t think it’s all marble and statues. Oh no, this city serves up a smorgasbord of open-air experiences that is absolutely free. We’re talking leisurely walks through Plaka’s picturesque alleys, marvelling at the grandeur of traditional churches, climbing hills for unbeatable panoramic views, and taking tranquil strolls in serene gardens and parks.
Fancy a bit of retail therapy without the retail price? Then you’ll love the buzz of the Monastiraki flea market – it’s window shopping with a twist. Or perhaps you’re into your history and fancy catching the Changing of the Guard at Syntagma Square, watching those famous evzones in their pompom shoes and all.
And that’s just for starters. So, strap on your most comfortable sandals, grab your sunhat, and join me as we delve into my choice of the 14 absolutely best free things to do in Athens. Your wallet can thank me later.
The Appeal of Free Things to Do in Athens
The prospect of visiting Athens, Greece – the cradle of Western civilisation – could be a wee bit daunting for the budget-conscious. All those museums, ruins, restaurants, and let’s not even get started on the enticing shops in Monastiraki. But what if I told you that Athens is a goldmine of free things to do? It’s enough to make your wallet do a little Zorba-style dance of joy.
You see, free things to do and activities are not just about saving a few euros for that extra helping of moussaka at dinner. They’re about deep-diving into the Athenian culture, walking the same paths that ancient philosophers once trod, and genuinely living a day in the life of a local. It’s about swapping those tourist queues for the quiet corners of Plaka, where the old-world charm of Athens unfurls itself like a sun-drenched terrace.
Take a leisurely stroll up one of Athens’ many hills, for instance. It will cost you nothing (unless you decide to rent a mythical winged Pegasus) and guarantee a view worth a million Euros. Or how about immersing yourself in the serenity of Athens’ gardens and parks, where you can enjoy your very own ‘platia’ picnic amidst locals?
And let’s not forget the grand old churches that dot the cityscape, offering a free glimpse into the country’s deep-rooted Orthodox traditions. Plus, who needs an expensive gym subscription when you can walk around Syntagma Square and perform the Evzones’ high-knee march – all in the name of fun.
You see, free things to do in Athens aren’t just about the money you save – they’re about experiencing the city in a way that no entry ticket can provide. So, shall we get started? The next Athenian adventure awaits, and it won’t cost you a single penny.
Athens on a Budget: My 14 Fab Finds that Won’t Cost a Euro
1. Walking around Plaka
Begining our list of free things to do in Athens, how about a walk in Plaka, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Athens, with its roots reaching back to the time of the gods. As night falls, this district puts on a magical show, its labyrinthine alleys bathed in the soft glow of street lamps. It feels like stepping into a different era, with neoclassical mansions, ancient ruins, and Byzantine churches around every corner. The souvenir shops are packed with handmade crafts that make perfect gifts, and the aroma of Greek delicacies wafting from the tavernas is sure to get your stomach rumbling.
2. Climbing Lycabettus Hill
If you’re up for a bit of an adventure, a hike up Lycabettus Hill is just the thing. It’s the highest point in Athens, providing an unparalleled view of the city and the Aegean Sea. The hike might leave you panting, but the sight that greets you at the top will make it all worthwhile. The Chapel of St. George at the summit adds a divine touch to the panoramic scenery, while the Athens cityscape spread out below is a stunning sight to behold.
3. Visiting the Changing of the Guard at Syntagma Square
The changing of the guard at Syntagma Square is a spectacle that should be on every Athens visitor’s list. The evzones, wearing their traditional uniform and tsarouchia shoes, perform a high-knee march that is as thrilling to watch as it is unique. This hourly event is steeped in symbolism and tradition, reflecting Greece’s history and cultural pride. But remember, trying to make the guards laugh or even crack a smile is a challenge tougher than deciphering the ancient Greek alphabet.
4. Discovering Street Art in Psirri and Metaxourgeio
Street art is often seen as a reflection of a city’s contemporary culture, and Athens is no exception. The neighbourhoods of Psirri and Metaxourgeio are alive with vibrant murals that tell stories of the city’s past, present, and future. It’s like an open-air art gallery, where every corner turned presents a new masterpiece to admire. And the best part? It doesn’t cost a single euro to explore these art-filled streets.
5. Strolling around Athens National Garden
For a breath of fresh air and a break from the city’s hustle, the Athens National Garden offers a haven of tranquillity. Right in the heart of Athens, this sprawling garden is home to more than 500 species of plants and trees, not to mention a fair share of exotic birds. It’s like stepping into a tropical paradise, with the palm trees swaying gently in the breeze and the duck ponds shimmering under the sunlight. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the shaded paths, or simply sit back and soak in the serene atmosphere.
6. Window Shopping at Monastiraki Flea Market
Monastiraki Flea Market is a bargain hunter’s paradise. Here, amidst the bustling crowd and colourful stalls, you can find everything from antique treasures and vintage clothes to handmade jewellery and quirky souvenirs. Take your time to explore this maze-like market, indulge in a bit of haggling, and enjoy the thrill of hunting for that perfect souvenir. And if you manage to resist the temptation to buy anything, well, that’s some serious self-control.
7. Visiting the Arch of Hadrian
Halfway through our list of top free things to do in Athens, and standing tall between the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Acropolis Museum is the Arch of Hadrian. It’s a testament to the city’s rich history. Built in the 2nd century AD in honour of the Roman emperor Hadrian, this monumental arch is adorned with Corinthian columns and inscriptions, making it a must-see for history buffs. As you walk under the arch and gaze up at the imposing structure, you can almost feel the weight of centuries of history bearing down on you.
8. Taking in the View from Pnyx
Pnyx Hill, the cradle of democracy, is a spot that’s steeped in history. But it’s not just the echoes of impassioned speeches by ancient statesmen that make this place special. Its commanding views over Athens are truly something to write home about.
From the vantage point of Pnyx, you’re treated to a grand panoramic spectacle of Athens’ most iconic landmarks. The Ancient Agora, once the heart of public life in Athens, stretches out beneath you, with the Stoa of Attalos standing proud. And then, there’s the Acropolis of Athens, standing tall and stately, a testament to the grandeur of Ancient Greece. All this laid out like a live map before your eyes.
As those TV Adverts say…”but wait, there’s more”, Pnyx is also an unrivalled spot to witness the city bathed in the warm hues of sunrise or cloaked in the soft pastels of sunset. It’s like watching Athens put on a daily light show, nature’s drama unfolding right before you. Whether you’re an early bird catching the sunrise or a night owl watching the sun dip behind the distant hills, the view from Pnyx will take your breath away.
So, head to Pnyx, and let your mind wander back to the time when democracy was a newborn idea. The best part? This spectacular view and journey back in time won’t cost you a penny. Pnyx, my friends, is absolutely free.
9. Exploring the Stavros Niarchos Park
The Stavros Niarchos Park, designed by the renowned landscape architect Deborah Nevins, is a modern-day oasis in the heart of Athens. With its Mediterranean Gardens, ‘Great Lawn’ and ‘Sea to Sea’ canal, this sustainable park is a paradise for nature lovers. As you stroll through the park, be sure to climb the ‘green hill’ for a bird’s-eye view of the city. The park offers a fun-filled day for all ages with its free cultural and educational activities.
10. Roaming the Zappeion Garden
The Zappeion Garden, adjacent to the National Garden, is a peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. Here, you can relax under the shade of the towering trees, watch the ducks paddling around in the pond, or simply admire the magnificent Zappeion building, a masterpiece of neoclassical architecture. The garden’s serene atmosphere makes it an ideal spot for a leisurely stroll or a quiet moment of reflection.
11. Climbing the Areopagus
Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill, is a rocky outcrop located near the Acropolis of Athens. A climb up the Areopagus is like a mini-adventure, with the rocky terrain adding a dash of excitement. Once you reach the top, you’re rewarded with a breathtaking city view. Whether you’re a photography enthusiast looking for that perfect shot or just someone who enjoys a good view, Areopagus is a spot that you don’t want to miss.
12. Hiking up Filopappou Hill
Filopappou Hill, also known as the Hill of the Muses, is a beloved spot among locals and tourists alike, and for good reason. The hill provides jaw-dropping views of the Parthenon, the city of Athens, and the shimmering Aegean Sea beyond.
But here’s a tip from a seasoned traveller: go there to catch the sunrise or sunset. Honestly, it’s like watching Mother Nature show off. As the sun peeks over the horizon in the morning, it bathes the city in a soft, golden light, bringing a sense of peace and serenity. In the evening, the setting sun paints the sky in shades of orange, pink and purple, and the city below lights up like a thousand twinkling stars. It’s pure magic, and it’s absolutely free.
As you hike up the hill, you’ll pass by various landmarks, including the monument of Filopappos, a Roman benefactor of Athens. The hill is also home to a variety of flora and fauna, making it a perfect spot for a nature walk. So, lace up your comfy shoes and get ready to be wowed by nature’s spectacular light show at Filopappou Hill.
13. Admiring the Ioannis Makriyiannis Statue
Last but not least, a visit to the statue of Ioannis Makriyiannis is a must for history buffs. A hero of the Greek War of Independence, Makriyiannis is immortalised in a statue at the entrance to the Plaka and very close to the Acropolis Museum and the entrance to the Acropolis. Paying a visit to this statue provides not only a history lesson but also a reminder of the city’s spirit of resilience and defiance. It’s a fitting end to your exploration of the free treasures that Athens has to offer.
14. Discover the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens
Just when you’ve marvelled at Athens’ ancient ruins and thought you’d hit the jackpot of historical beauty, the city throws another trump card at you: the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. Nestled in the bustling Mitropoleos Square, this awe-inspiring edifice gives a whole new meaning to divine architecture.
Built over two decades, this cathedral is a testament to Greece’s dedication and reverence towards the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. But even if you’re not religious, stepping inside feels like hitting the spiritual lottery – and guess what? Entry is absolutely free.
One of my top free things to do in Athens, it’s an Instagram-worthy spectacle, with intricate mosaics, ornate chandeliers, and vibrant stained-glass windows. Just a heads-up: craning your neck to admire the breathtaking interiors might make you a bit dizzy, but it’s a small price to pay for such visual splendour.
Tips and Tricks for a Budget-Friendly Trip to Athens
Visiting Athens, one of the oldest cities in the world, can be quite an adventure. But like all great adventures, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Here are some tips to make your Athens visit not just memorable but also budget-friendly.
Let’s start with timing. They say timing is everything, and in the case of Athens, that’s absolutely true. The city sees a heavy influx of tourists between June and August, turning many popular sites into a game of human bumper cars. So, my recommendation? Visit in the shoulder seasons between March and May or September and November.
The weather is delightful, the crowds thinner, and the vibe a bit more relaxed. As an added bonus, you’ll be able to snap envy-inducing photos of historic sites without a hundred selfie sticks photobombing your shot.
But let’s face it, popular sites like the Acropolis can get crowded even in the off-peak seasons. So, what’s the secret to avoid being swept away by the human tide? Simple. Go early, or go late. The early morning light bathes the ancient ruins in a soft, golden glow that’s a treat to the eyes. Plus, you’ll have the added advantage of avoiding the midday sun. Not an early bird? No worries. An evening visit is equally enchanting, with the setting sun painting the sky in hues of pink and orange.
Now, let’s move on to the tastiest part of this guide: where to eat in Athens. The city, famous for its mouthwatering Greek cuisine, is a food lover’s paradise. But good food doesn’t always have to come with a hefty price tag. Now, I can’t promise this as one of the free things to do in Athens, but for cheap places to eat in Athens, head to the neighbourhoods of Monastiraki or Psyrri. These areas are dotted with tavernas serving up everything from classic Greek salads and souvlaki to tzatziki and moussaka. One of my personal favourites is O Thanasis in Monastiraki, known for their kebabs and pita bread.
Street food is another delicious and affordable option. Trust me, biting into a juicy souvlaki wrapped in warm pita bread as you navigate the bustling streets of Athens is an experience your taste buds will thank you for. And let’s not forget the Greek bakeries, where you can grab a spanakopita (a spinach and feta cheese pie) or a bougatsa (a cream-filled pastry) for a few euros.
Now, as we talk about affordable and lip-smacking food in Athens, a special mention is a must. Meet Koulouri, the Greek breakfast of champions, the unsung hero of on-the-go eats. Picture this: a circular bread ring, lightly dusted with sesame seeds, baked to a perfect golden brown. It’s simple, it’s delicious, and it’s downright budget-friendly.
You’ll find Koulouri stands around every street corner in Athens. Early in the morning, as the city stirs awake, these vendors become a hub of activity. Locals swing by to pick up a koulouri (or three) to fuel their day. And let me tell you, there’s something incredibly satisfying about joining this morning ritual, Koulouri in hand, as you watch Athens come to life. Prices vary, but if youre looking for some of the cheapest, I recommend one of my favourites just outside the metro station in Monastiraki Square. For around €0.90 cents.
Despite its simplicity, Koulouri packs quite a punch. It’s slightly sweet, slightly savoury, with a subtle crunch from the sesame seeds. The texture is a cross between a pretzel and a bagel – a delightfully chewy, crusty combo perfect for curbing those hunger pangs as you trot around the city.
So, when in Athens, do as the Athenians do. Grab a koulouri from a street vendor, take a bite, and let the magic of this humble Greek snack weave its spell. Trust me, your wallet (and your stomach) will thank you.
Finally, a quick word on water. Stay hydrated, folks. Those Athenian hills aren’t going to climb themselves. But instead of buying bottled water, bring your own bottle and fill it up at one of the city’s many public drinking fountains. The water is clean, safe, and, best of all, free.
With a bit of planning and these tips in mind, you can explore the wonders of Athens without breaking the bank. Happy exploring.
Cheapskate’s Cheerio: Wrapping Up the Athens Experience
So, there you have it. A cornucopia of exciting, intriguing, and, most importantly, free things to do in Athens, a city that’s as timeless as it’s lively. For those of you who think that travel has to be a money-guzzling monster, Athens is here to prove you wrong. It’s a city that offers an enriching, immersive experience without the need to splash out on expensive tickets or guided tours.
In Athens, history is not confined within museum walls. It spills out onto the streets, the parks, the hills, and the public spaces. Each corner of this city, each cobbled lane, every ageing facade holds a tale waiting to be told. It’s an open-air museum, a history book come alive, where you are the explorer, charting your own course, uncovering tales from time.
But Athens isn’t just about its glorious past. It’s a city that embraces the new while cherishing the old. It’s in the vibrant street art adorning its city walls, in the bustling flea markets of Monastiraki, and in the rhythmic march of the evzones at Syntagma Square.
And let’s not forget about the unbeatable Greek hospitality. In Athens, you’re never a stranger. You’re an honoured guest, a friend, even if it’s your first visit. There’s an infectious openness, a warmth in the people, making you feel at home in a land that’s miles away from your own.
Athens has something for everyone. Whether you’re a history buff, foodie, nature enthusiast, museum or arts lover, you’ll find your niche here. And the best part? Many of these experiences don’t cost a penny. You don’t need a hefty bank balance to enjoy Athens. All you need is a sense of curiosity and a sense of adventure.